We communicate a great deal to others without ever uttering a single noise. Whether it is through finger gestures out the car window, a silent eye roll, or a bored look, people can tell what you are thinking or feeling just by your body, face, gestures, or posture. While we place a lot of importance in our culture on the written and spoken word, it is body language and non-verbal cues that provide the nuance and depth to our communications.
What is Body Language?
Also known as non-verbal communication, body language is any use of your mannerisms, physical behavior, or expressions to send a message to others. Many times, this type of communication is subconscious. Non-verbal forms of communication include hand gestures, posture, facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, rate and volume of speaking, body proximity, and much more. All these signals send messages to the receiver, whether you are aware of them or not. That means you are always sending messages, even when you are not talking.
Your body language can serve many different purposes during your communication for other people. It can strengthen your message by repeating your intended emotion or point. Your body language can even send a message without you needing to speak at all.
Sometimes, your non-verbal communication sends a message that is contradictory to your words, while at other times, your non-verbal cues complement your message and reinforce your ideas. Body language can also be used to accent a particular part of a message, such as emphasizing a point or illustrating the main idea.
Why is Body Language Important?
Your body language is particularly good at sending feedback to others about whether you are actively listening, engaged in, or care about your conversation. Because you are sending these signals even when you are not talking, they tell other people a great deal about what is happening inside your mind while you are actively talking.
When body language and verbal communications are in sync, they confirm your message to others and tell them that you are being honest or transparent. When there is a mismatch between what you are saying and your non-verbal communications, this makes people more skeptical of what you are saying, and they may have a harder time trusting or developing a rapport with you.
If you want to improve your communication skills, it is essential that your verbal and non-verbal communications match with each other, and that your body language is more sensitive to the needs of others. Our brains are much more sensitive to understanding non-verbal messages than the spoken word, which is why we rely a great deal on these cues to understand the emotion and intent of other people.
How to Improve Your Body Language
The first step to improving your own body language is to start paying attention to how others communicate using theirs. Watching the faces, eyes, and body movements of the people you are talking to can help you pick up on non-verbal cues, which will make you more aware of how you are communicating with your own.
Becoming more aware of your own emotions can change the messages you are sending non-verbally, as well. Many people are not even aware of the anger, stress, sadness, or other emotions that are influencing them. Spending time getting in touch with your feelings and how these are manifesting themselves in your communication will help improve your ability to control these and communicate more effectively.
Finally, consciously controlling your own body language and voice can help your non-verbal messages better reflect your verbal ones. Practicing, eliciting feedback from others, watching videos of yourself, and other techniques can help you to develop better non-verbal skills over time.